Simulators seem to be the “in” thing nowadays, spanning a whole host of professions and pastimes. Using these as their core inspiration, studios have gone to work developing a web of systems in order to deliver an authentic yet fun representation of whatever it is that they’re attempting to emulate.
Over the past several years we’ve seen just about everything from building rockets and open chest surgery, to living a day in the life of an adventurous slice of bread. Although not always the best of games, these so-called simulators have succeeded in taking us to places we’d never likely think of exploring ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, one pastime that has been left untouched by the realm of video games is the fascinating blood sport that is bullfighting. Where many cultures view it as tradition or artform, others have been quick to criticise the cruelty involved, likening it to more archaic pursuits such as bear baiting.
It’s not just the surrounding controversy that makes bullfighting an odd choice for game developer RECOtechnology, it’s also the practicality. Taking on such an unconventional sport and turning it into something playable (let alone fun) must have been an unenviable task, despite the excitement in going where no game studio has gone before. The end result, it has to be said, is both fairly basic and repetitive, yet still has its moments. Above all else it’s educational and strays from shamelessly glamouring the bloodshed of bullfighting.
After sifting through a limited spread of options, your custom torero will go toe-to-toe with their very first bull. The tutorials on hand are fairly basic and encourage players to experiment instead of simply signposting everything for you, and once the training wheels come off, you’ll go through a series of bullfights that make up Toro’s career mode. Each one has a passing score as well as achievement-like challenges that, when fulfilled, unlock new costumes and other bonus content.
The fights themselves are broken into several phases, as they are in real life. In the first, players will initiate elaborate cape manoeuvres using simplistic, two-button combos. When correctly performed, these will add points to your tally while also raising the crowd’s spirit. In the second phase, you’ll plant two banderillas into the bull, weakening the beast while also sending it into a frenzy. Sadly, there’s little interaction to be had during this part, with players simply having to complete a multi-part quick time event (QTE).
Once planted, a second round of cape-waving is carried out before the grand finale. Here, much like with the banderillas, players must match the button prompts on screen in order to drive a sword into the bull and finally put it out of its misery. There’s no screaming or any bloodshed – it simply runs out of sight as a menu tots up your scores.
This four-part cycle is the core of each and every bullfight in Toro. Although it never deviates, the game does try and up the challenge somewhat, filtering in tougher challenges while also making the bulls more agitated. Still, all fights boil down to the same routine of performing tricks, planting the banderillas, some more tricks, and finally, the bull’s slaying.
When it comes to actually playing the game, Toro feels akin to a rhythm action games. As the bull closes in, you’ll need to pull off a trick by pressing two of the face buttons. Time it just right (by judging the bull’s distance) and it will pass you by before turning and charging again. The downside to this system is that there’s no real guidance on hand. Although signposting and UI elements can be intrusive, their absence here turns Toro into a game of trial and error. Even after several hours of play, I still find myself unable to work out the perfect timings. Such instances are a real headache, as being gored will reset any point combos you happen to build up.
It doesn’t help that Toro is fairly shoddy looking game either. It’s great that we’re seeing plenty of indie games on PlayStation 4, but here the visual quality hardly reflects the £20 asking price, nor does the game’s choice of audio, with flat effects and music that had me diving into Spotify every time I had the chance.
For a few quid, Toro could be a nice diversion. Although its poor presentation and gameplay will grate on most gamers, there are still occasional glimmers of enjoyment, often derived from building up insane scores while nimbly dancing around the bull. However, RECOtechnology is asking several times the price and with so many better (and cheaper) alternatives, Toro suddenly becomes hard to recommend for anyone.
Version tested: PS4